A passion for prose: Sharjah Book Authority launches new virtual reading festival

The emirate, which was Unesco's World Book Capital 2019, is committed to fostering a love of the written word

Sharjah has long been a go-to destination for readers, writers and publishers in the UAE. Courtesy Sharjah Book Authority
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Buzzing book fairs and literature festivals might be off the agenda for now due to the UAE's social distancing regulations amid the coronavirus outbreak, but Sharjah has still found a way to foster people's love of the written word.

The Sharjah Book Authority has launched a 10-day virtual reading festival, starting from Wednesday, May 27. It promises to connect writers and authors from across the world with a number of cultural, literary and poetry sessions and workshops online.

The festival is aimed at people of all age groups and nationalities, as the authority invites celebrated Arab authors and other experts from different countries to get involved.

Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of SBA, emphasised that the promotion of science, knowledge and culture are key factors. "In these circumstances, our responsibility towards society, readers and intellectuals has naturally doubled, and we intend to harness all means to contribute to their well-being by uplifting their artistic thought and creative processes," he said.

“Now, more than ever, the role of culture, books and reading becomes more central to our lives … The Sharjah Virtual Reading Festival offers a unique digital platform for intellectuals and creative minds from around the world to connect remotely, celebrate the full diversity of humanity’s cultural expressions, and share experiences and knowledge, even as the world works to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.”

The schedule and specific details on how to access online sessions will be revealed in the weeks leading up to the festival.

In these circumstances, our responsibility towards society, readers and intellectuals has naturally doubled

The emirate has a long history of being a hub for literature and a go-to destination for readers, writers and publishers. In 1982, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, launched the first Sharjah International Book Fair.

Last year, Sharjah was Unesco's World Book Capital and a number of new initiatives were announced, including the launch of House of Wisdom, a state-of-the-art library, which will be home to more than 100,000 books, as well as a cafe and children's educational space. It was due to open this month.

The space also sits near The Scroll, a spiralling, modern sculpture inspired by Arabic scrolls and designed by British sculptor Gerry Judah.

A rendering of Sharjah's House of Wisdom with 'The Scroll' to its left.

However, amid the pandemic, a number of literary events have been postponed, including the annual Sharjah Children's Reading Festival, which was scheduled to be held between April 8 and 18.

In the meantime, Sharjah Public Libraries has given readers free access to its digital collection, which consists of more than six million e-books and other resources in about 10 languages, for three months.